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The Secret Agent review

Imagine a bygone, chim-chimeny age when fog was "a pea-souper", Dickensian rozzers chased ten-year-old pickpockets, and every other bloke you met was a would-be anarchist with dreams of social destruction.

At least this is what London in Christopher Hampton's bleak adaptation of The Secret Agent is like: a film based on the classic Joseph Conrad book, which in turn is based on a real attempt (in 1894) to blow up the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. This terrorist act, by Verloc (Hoskins), leads to all manner of tragic consequences, jump-starting a twisting, turning tale of despair and madness.

To call The Secret Agent "torturous" would be like describing Birmingham's Spaghetti Junction as a "small roundabout". The story is an incredible piece of literature, but even Hitchcock shied away from filming a truly faithful version. Hoskins shuffles through the bleakness like a fat Fagin, but can't inject any interest into a movie that has all the mass-market pull of a night out bird-watching. No wonder Fox hushed it up and rushed it out.

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Available platformsMovie